Don't Panic! November 21 2001
Terror tips for the terrified
What the heck is the Northern Alliance, and what exactly is it an alliance of?
For a quick analogy, let's turn to one of my favorite childhood TV shows, the Star Wars knock-off "Battlestar Galactica." Over the opening credits, head Battlestar dude Lorne Greene intoned the following:
"Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest — for a shining planet known as Earth."
Substitute "Cylon" with "Taliban." Then substitute "last Battlestar, Galatica" with "Northern Alliance." Finally, substitute "shining planet known as Earth" with "festering hellhole known as Afghanistan," and you've got it.
Rumor has it the Taliban's top leader, Mullah Omar, has scary red LED eyes just like the Cylons. He's a bit camera shy, so I can't verify that.
The Northern Alliance is a multi-ethnic fighting force whose components hate each other, but hate the Taliban even more. The Alliance is the military wing of the "government" that ruled Afghanistan before the Taliban took over in the mid-1990s. Government is in quotations because the Northern Alliance — a warring, killing, rampaging, looting, non-human-rights-respecting bunch — didn't do much in the way of governing. They were so terrible, in fact, that the Taliban — a homicidal, fundamentalist, rampaging bunch themselves — seemed a pleasant alternative by virtue of their relative orderliness.
Ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras compose the bulk of the Northern Alliance, while the Taliban is made up of Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. Although the Northern Alliance does have Muslim fundamentalists and former communists in its ranks, they are not as violently anti-Western as the Taliban regime — and that's why we like them. U.S. policy reflects the fact that we don't really care if Afghans kill each other. we just want to get rid of the ones helping Osama bin Laden kill us.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the Northern Alliance rebels need to team up with some sort of Pashtun force in the south of Afghanistan before the Pashtun people will abandon the Taliban en masse. Of course, conventional wisdom also dictated that Taliban robo-warriors would fight to the death before they'd abandon Kabul. so who the hell knows.
E-mail your war questions to email@example.com.??